MILLER, PHILIP (1691–1771), gardener, was born either at Deptford or Greenwich in 1691. His father was a Scotchman, who, after serving for some time as gardener to a gentleman at Bromley, Kent, commenced business as a market gardener near Deptford. Philip on leaving school assisted his father for a short time, but at an early age began business on his own account as a florist on a piece of ground in St. George's Fields, afterwards the site of the King's Bench prison. Here he soon attracted the attention of Sir Hans Sloane and others, and, induced by them to give up his florist's business, he devoted himself to assisting other gardeners, including Ellis, then foreman of the Chelsea Garden. In 1722, the year in which Sloane made his final grant of the Chelsea Garden to the Apothecaries' Company, Ellis was dismissed, and Miller, on Sloane's recommendation, was appointed. The ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ in announcing his death (xli. 571), Sir J. E. Smith, in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia,’ and Pulteney, all erroneously state that he succeeded his father. In 1724 he published his first work, a first sketch of the chief work of his life, as ‘The Gardener's and Florist's Dictionary, or a Complete System of Horticulture,’ in two vols. 8vo, dedicated to the Apothecaries' Company; and by 1728 he had evinced his skill as a cultivator by a paper communicated to the Royal Society (Philosophical Transactions, xxxv. 485) on ‘A Method of Raising some Exotic Seeds which have been judged almost impossible to be raised in England,’ by first germinating them on a bed of tan. Two years later he for the first time described (ib. xxxvii. 81) the method, now so well known, of flowering bulbous plants in bottles filled with water. About this time he acted as secretary to a society of a few experienced gardeners who met weekly ‘until, a serious difference arising among the members respecting the publishing of some portion of their proceedings and information, they broke up rather abruptly. The opponents of the publication demanded their papers from Miller, who immediately gave them up, having, however, with his usual foresight, taken a copy of each’ (John Rogers, The Vegetable Cultivator, 1839). In 1730 he published a thin folio, with twenty-one coloured plates after Van Huysum, entitled ‘Catalogus Plantarum … quæ in hortis haud procul a Londino … propagantur,’ which does not bear his name, but has a preface signed by the members of this society.
Of his skill as a gardener Loudon says (Arboretum Britannicum, p. 81): ‘Miller during his long career had no considerable competitor until he approached the end of it.’ He was, however, looked upon with jealousy, as of Scottish birth, and also, it appears (Gent. Mag. liii. 332), as employing none but Scotsmen. Though Switzer bears testimony to his ‘usual generosity, openness, and freedom,’ he is believed to refer to Miller in his ‘Gardener's Recreation’ as one of the ‘northern lads who have invaded the southern provinces.’ In 1731 appeared the first volume of his ‘magnum opus’ (‘The Gardener's Dictionary’), of which Linnæus said, ‘Non erit lexicon hortulanorum, sed botanicorum.’ On 1 April of that year he presented a copy to the Royal Society, ‘who returned him their unanimous thanks for that excellent useful work’ (Gent. Mag. i. 171). The work went through eight editions during his lifetime, and it is said of it that, while before its appearance not more than a thousand species of plants were in cultivation, at Miller's death there were more than five thousand. Trained in the school of Tournefort and Ray, ‘it was not without reluctance that he was brought to adopt the system of Linnæus; but he was convinced at length by the arguments of Sir William Watson and Mr. [William] Hudson’ (1730–1793) [q. v.] (Pulteney, ii. 242). He became a correspondent of Linnæus, who several times visited the Chelsea Garden when in England in 1736, and records in his diary for that year that Miller permitted him ‘to collect many plants in the garden, and gave [him] several dried specimens collected in South America.’ It was not, however, until the seventh edition of the ‘Dictionary,’ published in 1759, and containing twice as many plants as the first edition, that the Linnean nomenclature was adopted. In the following year he added to the twelfth edition of his ‘Gardener's Kalendar’ ‘a short introduction to the science of botany,’ with five plates illustrating the Linnean system. In 1750 the committee of the Apothecaries' Company reported their satisfaction at the ‘large number of rare plants, many of them nondescripts,’ then in the garden owing to Miller's ‘diligence in foreign correspondence’ (Field and Semple, Memoirs of the Botanic Garden, Chelsea,